Northern Ireland set to lose ‘instrumental’ European Funding

Due to the uncertain relationship the UK will have with Europe once Brexit takes hold, Northern Ireland council areas are set to lose valuable European funding by 2022.

Derry City Strabane District Council Area (DCSDC) runs one of the many European Socially funded (ESF) programmes across Northern Ireland, called ‘Kick Start to Work’. These programmes are aimed at combating poverty and enhancing social inclusion by reducing economic inactivity, and increasing the skills base of current or future participants of the workplace.

Currently, Derry City Strabane District Council Area has no provisions in place for when the funding ceases. This is a worrying factor for both council workers and members of the public who avail of their unemployment services.

Nicky Gilleece, Kickstart’s Mentoring Officer, said: ‘An incidental benefit of ESF funding is the support network it has created for its participants through the professional mentoring given. This personal service can never be duplicated by Government bodies and will be missed as much as the financial aspect of ESF.’

ESF is the most important factor, financially, for DCSDC Area’s ability to reach out and help the public move forward into the workplace.  40% of the funding comes from ESF which is the largest contributing factor, a further 25% of the funds are from government and council provides 35% match funding.

Derry City Council’s Skills Manager, Tina Gillespie, said ‘Financially over £5m per annum is brought in through ESF. It pays for training which an unemployed / economically inactive person could not pay for or avail of without ESF.’

Without this funding Council Areas would struggle to provide the top quality services currently offered.

In 2015 Derry and Strabane were top of the unemployment rates with 7.4%, followed by Belfast’s 5.2%. They have also consistently been above the NI average unemployment rates for over 10 years. With such frightening figures, it is vital that DCSDC continue working to improve their economic activity.


DCSDC Area’s ‘Kick Start to Work’ program offers free and confidential support with employment and training. They assist with job searching, writing CVs, completing job applications, preparing for interviews, and getting into the right training course.

Nicky works directly with the clients and notices the positive economic and emotional benefits the program has.

She said: ‘With a rate into employment of over 30%, Kickstart have assisted hundreds of people with accessing employment opportunities they would not have thought possible.‘

Prior to Kickstart there was no facility for local people to access free, vital and simple services that Kickstart provides and without the program DCSDC Area will have a large void for those in need of economic assistance.

Nicky said: ‘Kickstart’s assistance has been financial, emotional, practical and instrumental to the clients.’


While ESF has been a  benefit to DCSDC Area, it is not without its issues. Unemployment rates are still dangerously high and they have scored consistently as one of the most economically deprived council areas across Northern Ireland.

Tina said: ‘Overall, elements of the programme have been very successful but, on the whole, when you look statistically at the targets groups above the percentages have not changed. This is an indictment of both the delivery partners in ESF and the economy itself.’


Regardless of statistics, European Socially Funded programmes provide beneficial work; both in helping those unemployed get into the work place and on a personal level.

The training sector will contract as removal of ESF funding and will significantly reduce the provision of training, mentoring and support in the DCSDC area. There will also be unemployment in this sector with regards to staff involved in programmes such as Kickstart.

Nicky said: ‘The bottom line is that opportunities for employment will be lost as these will be taken up by candidates who can afford to train themselves.’

Kickstart’s Outreach Table


Tina said: ‘The removal of ESF will remove the comfort blanket that participants have had which increased their independence. This is negative and detrimental. People do not want to avail of the statutory services and provision available as it is linked to government, they feel more at ease with provision from non-government groups.’

At present there is no foreseeable replacement for ESF, but Tina Gillespie ensures that each Council has a strategic plan in place for future growth.  This will address the supply and demand elements of employment and will aim to bring supply and demand to an equilibrium, that is, train for sectors which are growing.

DCSDC Job Growth Forecast


She concluded, saying: ‘These plans need to be pushed forward with a smarter use of what money is available and a tighter control and monitoring of this money. There needs to be a focus on pulling funding in from America and monopolising on social enterprises’

With just 5 years till European Social Funding ceases in 2022, it is imperative that Northern Ireland Council Areas accumulate their resources and establish a better, stronger scheme to ensure that employability and skills do not slip, but grow.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople: Film Review

A film about a fat kid obsessed with being a gangster, an irritable older man and a dog named Tupac doesn’t exactly scream ‘film of the year.’ Yet that’s what many people have said about ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople.’

Directed and written by Taika Waititi, based off of the novel Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump, the film is an understated drama comedy about companionship.

Ricky (Julian Dennison) is an abandoned delinquent who has been taken from his city life and left with foster carers Aunt Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and Uncle Hec (Sam Neill) in a remote farm in the middle of New Zealand.

Waititi builds the relationship between Ricky and Aunt Bella with affection while making you cry with laughter. Bella’s first encounter with ‘fat kid’ Ricky sets the tone of the movie perfectly with the line: ‘what you wanna do, you hungry? That’s a silly question, isn’t it? Look at you.’

But it is the relationship and wild adventure that Ricky and Uncle Hec share that is the heart of the movie.

Faking his own death, with the use of a basketball and old clothes, Ricky burns down the barn and leaves his foster home with his dog Tupac. Hec’s efforts to find Ricky leads the social services to assume that an unstable Hec has kidnapped him, and thus a comical man hunt begins.

Combining a cantankerous Hec and a senseless Ricky in the middle of New Zealand’s bush leads to sacrifices, a lot of misunderstandings and even more laughs.

A standoff with a group of hunters results in one of the film’s best comedic scenes. A daft Ricky unknowingly insinuates that uncle Hec had sexually harassed him, telling the men ‘he made me do stuff.’ The back and forth between an exasperated Hec, confused Ricky and the concerned hunters is comedic genius.

Dennison is a constant scene stealer, managing to balance Ricky’s snappy one liners with subtle emotion, reminding us that underneath the ‘gangster’ facade, he is still an abandoned kid.

The film is not one built on sentiment, but through the laughter it manages to become not only one of the best comedies, but one of the best heartfelt dramas.

The relationship between Ricky and Uncle Hec is characteristic of two puzzle pieces that do not fit together. They are a far cry from a match made in heaven. But the film’s portrayal of the raw and complex nature of humanity makes them exactly what the other needs; they just refuse to admit it.

Film trailer:

Visit the film’s website:

Empire Film Review:

Barry Crump’s original book:

Limavady Initiative for the Prevention of Suicide

Limavady Initiative for the Prevention of Suicide (L.I.P.S) is a new charity set up to help those struggling with mental health or suicide. After the death of two young men, the families and concerned community members pulled together to create something to help. Over the years Limavady has lost several lives, mainly young men, to suicide and L.I.P.S hopes to reach out to those struggling. Sheena Morrison, L.I.P.S treasurer, talks about the charity and why it is so necessary.


Closing the Dark Hedges to vehicle traffic – how soon is now?

Calls have been made my numerous campaign groups to ensure the Dark Hedges remains a national treasure in Northern Ireland amid fears of its long-term survival, Jonathan McNabb investigates.

The future use of one of Northern Ireland’s most popular tourist destinations is under immediate threat, the Dark Hedges Preservation Trust has warned.

The Dark Hedges, known for its background setting in the fictional drama, Game of Thrones, is often busy with cars and buses in the outskirts of Armoy, Co. Antrim.

However, constant pressure on the site from traffic and a high number of tourists has caused debate about the long-term future of the trees.

Out of the 150 trees that were planted by the Stuart family in the 1700s as a dramatic approach to their Georgian mansion, only 90 remain, with one being uprooted in February’s Storm Doris.

The site feels the full impact of Storm Doris in February.

The site is visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists every year and is on a list of the 12 best road trips in the UK and Ireland compiled by the website continental road trip.

In 2015, it was estimated that over 10,000 Game of Thrones fans visited the site on tours across the Province.

The natural phenomena is one of the most photographed locations in Northern Ireland for amateurs and professionals, but this increase in popularity means the beech trees are surface rooting and cannot withstand the heavy flow of traffic.

Graham Thompson, CEO of the Dark Hedges Preservation Trust, explains that the ‘experience’ of visiting the iconic site is becoming damaged by cars and other road traffic.

He said: “It is important that cars don’t come down the road so that the whole experience of visiting the site is appreciated more by the people who are coming.

“Cars are just one of the many issues as there are also buses that stop here and disrupt the whole experience for others.

“We are working with the Hedges Hotel and the Gracehill golf complex to try and come up with an integrated management solution.

“This will involve traffic management and reducing the amount of cars and other vehicle gaining access to the site.”

The site is in danger of being destroyed by road traffic, Graham Thompson says.

Mr. Thompson also revealed that the Trust has been in discussions with the Northern Ireland Assembly to resolve the issue.

“Cars will be stopped coming up the road,” he added.

“Measures have been put forward to the Assembly to restrict vehicle movement.

“We don’t know what will happen but it is our aim that people will park off site, the road will be free of traffic and they will have a much better visitor experience.”

Jonathan Hobbs, writer of the blog NI Greenways, is in agreement with Mr. Thompson and believes road traffic around the area can be managed ‘very easily’.

He said: “The Woodland Trust have estimated that the Dark Hedges have about 20 years left if we continue to let traffic along the Bregagh Road at current levels.

“For such a small intervention closing vehicle access at both ends is a small price to pay to protect this important piece of rural heritage and a tourist draw.

“The Council, the Department for Infrastructure and many local politicians and community voices seem to be working towards this very solution.

“There’s very little essential access needed along the road, nothing which can’t be managed very easily. There is a decent car park already in place at the Dark Hedges Hotel just across the road.

The Dark Hedges Hotel and the nearby Gracehill Golf Club offer free car parking near the site.

“You wouldn’t expect to be able to drive right down to the Giant’s Causeway and park up on the famous stones at the side of the road there.

“The Dark Hedges has a big role to play in drawing in tourists from around the world in the future and we need to offer visitors a safe and pleasant experience which is memorable for the right reasons.”

Sam Reynolds, who lives in nearby Stranocum, believes local authorities need to resolve this issue immediately; otherwise the site ‘could be gone for good.’

He said: “I have seen a major deterioration in the area in the last four or five years.

“Trees have fallen and the grass verges are becoming destroyed at an alarming rate.

“Traffic at the site is causing severe damage, despite Gracehill Golf Club and the Hedges Hotel offering free car parking nearby.

“It is vitally important that local authorities come up with a strategy to maintain the long-term survival of the Hedges because if not, the site could be gone for good.

“It’s a shame as it’s one of the most popular destinations on the North Coast and attracts thousands of visitors each year.”

The long-running saga about closing the site to vehicle traffic looks set to continue after the news that the safeguarding of the Hedges could come down to a public inquiry.

Causeway Coast and Glens councillors were told that a public inquiry may be the only logical step to preserve the area after four objections were received to Transport NI’s proposals to ban vehicle movement at the tourist attraction.

Councillor Joan Baird OBE, the Mayor of the Council believes the trees are at a ‘high risk of destruction.’

She said: “The trees at the Dark Hedges are at a high risk of destruction due to people parking on the grass verges and destroying the root structures.

“The Dark Hedges Preservation Trust must take responsibility for the delays in addressing the problem.

“Transport NI plan to restrict usage of the Bregagh Road, but there are objectors, and under law this must go to a public inquiry which does take time.

“The problem with parking at the Hotel is that pedestrians still have to cross the Ballinlea Road to access the trees and this presents road safety issues.

“It is a shame there is no quick fix solution as yet.”

The Dark Hedges Preservation Trust must take responsibility for not addressing the problems faster, Councillor Joan Baird says.

The loss of this iconic site would be a blow to the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council who explain that they are ‘working with landowners and Transport Northern Ireland to create a sustainable solution.’

The sad reality is that this beautiful site might not be here for much longer.

Masters 2017: A fairytale victory for Sergio Garcia

After 73 failed attempts to win a major title the Spaniard held his nerve to clinch the Masters at Augusta National.

“I’m not good enough. I don’t have the thing I need to have. I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to play for second or third place.”

It was five years ago that Sergio García made this statement after a poor third round at Augusta ended any hopes that the Spaniard would win a coveted major.

The 37 year-old seemed destined to be a habitual bridesmaid throughout his career, but on Sunday he clinched his dreams by landing the Green Jacket after a play-off hole with Justin Rose.

A young Garcia with his hero, Seve Ballesteros.

It was a fitting scene. On the weekend of his late hero, Seve Ballesteros’ 60th birthday, the Borriol native conquered his demons by landing the vital blow on the 18th green to win the 81st Masters.

In typical fashion, García made himself and his strong legion of fans go through every emotion as he went toe-to-toe with Olympic champion and one-time major winner, Justin Rose. A bogey at the 10th hole meant the Spaniard trailed his Ryder Cup companion, but a fantastic eagle at 15 levelled the scores after a Rose birdie.

It was gripping television for the viewer right through to the 18th green as both players had birdie opportunities to gain the upper hand. First up was the cool and talented Rose, but as his putt looked destined to find the bottom of the cup, it trickled narrowly wide.

An emotional Garcia after losing to Padraig Harrington in a play-off for the The Open Championship in 2007.

This presented Garcia with the perfect opportunity to seize the moment, but as his putt never looked destined to trouble the hole, it might have conjured memories of the 2007 Open Championship at Carnoustie, where García also had a putt for victory at the 72nd hole, missed it and then lost in a playoff to Padraig Harrington.

The drama was to continue as both players – who are also close friends away from the course – were tasked with a tense tee-shot in the play-off. García was the one whose drive found the fairway while Rose’s ball ricocheted off a tree and came to rest in the pine needles, in front of a pine cone. Rose’s pitch landed short of the green while García stuck his approach to 12 feet.

The Spaniard celebrates after securing his first major title.

Once Rose tapped in for bogey, the spotlight belonged to the popular Spaniard who sunk his birdie putt and fell to his knees after realising the significance of his achievement.

“Obviously, this is something I wanted to do for a long time,” García said,

“But, you know, it never felt like a horror movie. It felt like a little bit of a drama, but obviously with a happy ending.”

A happy ending indeed for one of golf’s fantastic talents.

Harkin: ‘I can’t wait for the cup final’

COLERAINE midfielder Ciaron Harkin speaks to Jonathan McNabb ahead of tomorrow’s Irish Cup final against Linfield…

Ciaron Harkin admits he is looking forward to ‘a great experience’ when he faces Linfield in tomorrow’s Irish Cup final (KO 2:30pm).

The tireless midfielder joined the Bannsiders in January following a spell with Institute and hopes he can bring the trophy back to the Ballycastle Road for the sixth time in the club’s history.

The 20-year-old also revealed he nearly missed out on the run to the final as he could have been cup tied if he played for Institute in the 4th round of the competition.

Listen to the video below:

Rise in attacks in Northern Ireland’s fast food outlets

Fast food outlets in Northern Ireland see hundreds of crimes every year according to recent police records published in the Irish News.

Of the 2,300 attacks in fast food outlets in the north over the past three years half have been of a violent nature.

Topping the list was the city centre branch of McDonalds, 200 offences have been committed there during that time.

It was this outlet that saw the stabbing of a young boxer from West Belfast Caoimhin Hynes (20) queuing  for food after a night out just a few weeks ago.

The figures also show that crimes at fast food outlets are on the increase with 820 crimes committed last year, compared with 758 the year before.

Violent crimes is where the really worry is though with an increase to 394 from 2015’s figure of 305.

SDLP Councillor for Belfast City Council, Paul McCusker, has worked on the streets for the past few years with his charity, Homeless Aware.

He has been shocked by the sights that he has seen on Belfast streets late at night.

He has blamed the rise in drug presence on the streets for the “exponential” rise in violent crime, particularly those involving knives.

I spoke to him about why he felt that rise has occurred and what needs to be done in order to prevent it.

PSNI hope simulator will make roads a safer place

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) have created a car crash simulator in a bid to make the roads of Northern Ireland a safer place.

Aimed at students and young drivers, the simulator takes the passenger through a real story about a fatal car crash in Wales from around 10 years ago.

Starting from the beginning of the day, passengers will go through the events leading up to the crash, the fatal accident, as well as witnessing the role of the police after the accident.

Constable Crutchley, from the PSNI Road Safety Department, believes the simulator has a positive impact, “The purpose of the simulator is to try and make people think about the decisions they make when in a car.

“We get involved in education, we get involved in enforcement and we also work with other agencies to make roads safer through engineering.”

As the simulator was at Ulster University on an icy February morning, Constable Crutchley has some extra advice for motorists in difficult conditions.

“Don’t take chances,” he believes, “Be prepared and make sure that your car is defrosted properly before heading off in the morning.

“We hate to see motorists peering through a little gap in their front windscreen.”


Fighting fees for a brighter future

Fighting fees for a brighter future

By Andy Gray (@AndyGrayNI)

With record numbers coming out to vote in the recent Assembly election, it is clear that politics has once again recaptured the interest of young people in society.

After Brexit, there were grumblings that “old people had taken away the future for young” people, but ultimately, not enough young people came out to make their voices heard.

But in the recent Assembly election, a vote sparked off the back of Martin McGuiness’ resignation as Deputy First Minister over the DUP’s handling of the RHI scandal, young people were determined to make a difference.

There are several factors that sparked the interest of the younger generation.

General Election Turnout % (Source: EONI) United Kingdom Northern Ireland
2005 61.4% 62.9%
2010 65.1% 57.6%
2015 66.1% 66.1%
2017 68.7% 65.4%

Firstly, the impact and fall out of the RHI scandal cannot be underestimated.  DUP leader Arlene Foster’s leadership over the scandal has been a disaster, with even many unionist voters moving away from their traditional vote in protest.

The DUP’s refusal to support equal marriage has also been heavily criticised by many young people. It’s no longer a generation of us versus them politics, manifestos and policies now do matter.

A demand for equality cannot be understated, and young people are leading the charge.

One factor that has played a part, and often went under the radar, is student fees. It’s attracted interest from young people right across the UK.

With constant threats to raise Student Fees from the Conservative Party, Labour have come out fighting and said they plan to abolish them altogether and create a higher education for the masses.

The issue of student fees has also grabbed attention back in Northern Ireland.

Unlike Scotland, England and Wales, students in Northern Ireland only pay a third of the price for an Undergraduate course, meaning that once again, Northern Ireland finds itself in a special position.

Speaking to students about the issue, the feeling is strong that students should not be hit by rising costs and more crippling debt that will hamper their future.

Luke Sunerton, who studies History and Politics at Queens’ University Belfast, believes that the student voice is stronger than ever.

“I think students, especially over here, have become frustrated at the same old excuses and bad relations between the different parties,” he said.

“But recently I think parties have recognised that they need to appeal to the younger voter too and there has been a real push to get the new generation on board.

“But I have to wonder really how much politicians want our vote, especially on equality issues and also with uncertainty over student fees.

“To get ahead when there is a push to get young people to go through university so that they can get a job when they graduate, but now after graduation there are few job prospects and a huge chunk of student debt.”

With student fees facing an uncertain future both locally and in Westminster, Mr Sunerton believes that it is a key issue among young people and first time voters.

He believes, “It’s definitely crucial for the young voter. Over in Westminster you have two contrasts with the Conservatives and Labour so I think interest has been peaked nationally.”

Cost of Undergraduate Tuition (Source: England and Wales Scotland (For Scottish Students) Scotland (For rest of UK) Northern Ireland
Cost (Per Year) £9,250 £1,820 £9,250 £4,030

Kevin McStravock, President for the Student’s Union at Ulster University, believes that government have to take students seriously about the issue.

“I believe strongly that students should have the right to access publically funded student tuition,” says Mr McStravock, “20 years ago, a lot of the now senior politicians would have been able to access tuition without having to pay for it and now students simply don’t have the same opportunities.

“I feel that everyone has a right to education and that everyone should have a right to try and better themselves. Everyone should be given an equal opportunity to progress their career without the financial burden that becoming a student can bring.

Ahead of the upcoming General Election, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has pledged to make higher education free and to write off any remaining student debt, something that Kevin believes is a positive step forward.

“It should be acknowledged that is budgeted so that is a good starting point,” he said, “I think there is still a lot more work that needs to be done to implement that. There is a huge cost associated with this but I believe that he has justified the reasons for it.

“I think it’s definitely achievable, it just depends on how the funding gap is addressed and the way in which it is paid for.”

With many Universities in the UK now run like a business, Mr McStravock believes that an open approach about the issue of fees is the only way to tackle the problem, “We are forward and the Chancellor of the university knows that we are opposed to fees.

“We understand that there is a huge funding gap in Northern Ireland but they know that we are fully opposed to any increase in fees.

“We’ve tried to find the areas in which we have common ground so we can easily work with the University to lobby with local government.”

Before the collapse of the Assembly in December, the Student’s Union organised a petition against the rise of fees which would be presented to the Assembly upon its return, and the President of the Union believes that it got a positive response.

“The vast majority of MLAs who replied to us were positive and recognised the need for additional funding for higher education. Some of them offered support which suggests that they would be in favour of tuition fees being scrapped.

“Obviously since then the Assembly has collapsed, but when it gets back up and running we will continue to lobby and provide a voice for students.”

With more young people coming out and voting in their masses, they are now deciding that it is time their voices are heard.

For the first time in many generations, young people are coming out in their masses and voting. Turn out percentages are up and are at a consistent level, meaning that it is now time for politicians to take note and listen to the future.

13 Reasons Why – Review.



If you haven’t heard of Netflix’s new series 13 Reasons Why, then you’ve probably been living under a rock. The aptly numbered 13-part series tells the story of 17 year old Hannah Baker; a teenage girl who has committed suicide, leaving behind 13 tapes directed at 13 different people, telling them how they contributed to her suicide. Each person must listen to the tapes in consecutive order and not pass them on until they have listened to each one.

The series is based on the Young Adult novel by Jay Asher, yet somehow manages to be embarrassingly out of touch with teenagers. In what world do 17 year olds say ‘FML Forever’ as a friendship catchphrase? Try lowering your age demographic to 7 year olds if you want this to resonate. Not to mention Hannah’s cheesy one-liners: “Once again you and the point are complete strangers” she sasses at Clay, in a laughably out of place Wednesday Adams-ridden tone. Its moments like this when I really can’t help but agree with characters who say that Hannah was a drama Queen.

The series manages to be more of a ‘tour de fail’ than a ‘tour de force’ as it tries to tackle a number of contentious issues such as voyeurism, bullying, rape, sexuality, addiction, suicide, and gun violence. This sickly concoction of tragic topics leaves little room to give each one the attention it deserves and leaves the viewer feeling unsatisfied. The main criticism I have is that the main issue -that of suicide – is robbed of its complexity. The show is based on the premise that other people’s actions can be the cause for suicide and ergo if you are nice to people they won’t have any reason to commit suicide. This message is of course reductive, and untrue. It seems somewhat beyond belief that the show gives not even one nod to mental illness or the word depression.

Indeed, some mental health charities have warned about the show’s misrepresentation of suicide and some schools have even sent letters home warning parents not to let their children watch it. Despite this, the series has worryingly still proven to be hugely popular. Ultimately, 13 Reasons Why falls at the first hurdle because of its simplistic portrayal of suicide and this poor execution of its primary concern makes it a no go for me in terms of TV viewing.

Student Journalism from Ulster